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Jack Ferry, Worcester County Development Center director, shared his organizations vital mission with the County Commissioners, along with a host of social service agencies seeking continued financial backing during a fiscal 2020 budget public hearing at Stephen Decatur High School on Tuesday.

Cover: Jack Ferry

(May 10, 2019) The Worcester County Commissioners held a public hearing for the county’s fiscal 2020 operating budget on Tuesday at Stephen Decatur High School to take comments about a proposed property tax rate increase that would produce the $6.7 million needed to cover all expenses.

Worcester Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins opened the hearing by highlighting fiscal 2020 bottom line figures, which estimate general fund revenues at more than $195 million, with operating expenses topping $202 million.

To balance the ledgers the county is considering raising real property taxes to $.8666 per $100 of assessable value, an uptick from the current $.835 rate.

Higgins noted the fiscal 2020 assessable tax value will reach $16.4 billion, which represents an increase of 9.9 percent since 2016 when the assessable base was roughly $14.9 billion.

Maintaining the current property tax rate of $.835 would net additional revenues of roughly $1.8 million for fiscal 2020, Higgins said.

The state calculated constant yield tax rate for fiscal 2020 is $.8231, which is the percent required to generate revenue equal to that collected in the current year.

Regardless, to cover the significantly larger expense increases of $6.7 million, the county is estimating setting property tax rates 5.3 percent above constant yield at $.8666 per $100 of assessable value.

The largest slice of the fiscal 2020 revenue pie comes from property taxes, estimated at $139.8 million or 71.4 percent of incoming monies, based on the current $.835 rate, with the second highest total derived from income taxes, estimated at $23 million at a rate of 1.75 percent.

Higgins said the current property tax rate of $.835 is the second lowest in the state, while the 1.75 income tax rate is the lowest in Maryland.

Worcester County Schools Superintendent Lou Taylor said the commissioners have been an integral part of the education systems continued success.

“We know the importance of investing in our youth [and] because of our schools, we believe the local economy thrives,” he said.

Despite increased high school graduation rates causing a correlating reduction in dropout figures, Taylor said the school system still faces challenges such as teacher retention and maintaining optimal class sizes while providing a safe learning environment.

“Our focus is what’s best for kids,” he said.

Echoing that sentiment was Worcester County Teacher Association President Beth Shockley-Lynch.

“Teachers commitment to students is second to none,” she said. “There is no other job that can shape the future like a teacher.”

In addition to a large contingency of educators, a number of social service agencies spoke about the importance of continued support, with numerous entities clamoring for a cut of the roughly $958,000 included in the fiscal 2020 budget, which represents an increase of 28 percent over the current year.

Diakonia President Allison Bernard-Church said her organization continues to have a growing presence throughout the county, including operating a food pantry, providing veteran support services, and offering emergency housing.

“We still need your help to do the things we do,” she said.

Jack Ferry, Worcester County Development Center director, said while his organization also receives funds from federal and state sources, recent federally unfunded mandates have reduced support.

Worcester County Youth & Family Counseling Services Executive Director Steve Taylor said the Berlin-based center has been positively affecting the most vulnerable community members since 1975.

The commissioners have budget work sessions scheduled on May 14 and May 21, with a possible third session on May 28, before the budget is adopted on June. 4.

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